Nonprofit organization, town assessor disagree on former Squires clubhouse
Town of Belgium officials, still frustrated that the former Squires Country Club is now a tax-exempt nature preserve owned by the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, twice denied a request by the Land Trust to refund $6,551.80 paid in 2009 taxes on property it claims should be tax exempt.
The Land Trust paid $6,430 in property taxes for the former clubhouse and five acres of land and $121 in personal property taxes.
The remainder of the 116-acre property that the Land Trust purchased from Bruce and Bonnie Bloemer in November 2008 is tax exempt. The Bloemers paid about $23,000 annually in taxes when they owned the golf course.
The town’s appraiser, Michael Grota of Grota Appraisals in Germantown, contends the clubhouse and five acres were not tax exempt on Jan. 1, 2009, because the Land Trust did not use the building for an exempt purpose prior to that date.
“The statutes are very specific in what qualifies as tax-exempt use,” Grota said. “If an assessor has any questions about the use, they should deny the exemption. They (Land Trust) owned it for less than five weeks, and they didn’t meet the requirement as of Jan. 1, 2009.”
The Land Trust has applied for tax exempt status this year, but Grota said he has not made a decision on that request.
“We have been in contact with them and they have submitted information to support their request. I expect we will make a decision by the end of the month,” he said.
Tax-exempt status is determined by the assessor not town officials, Grota said.
“It starts with me, with guidance from the Department of Revenue. The first appeal is to the assessor,” he said.
“They can then take it to civil court or file a claim with the community, which they did. If that’s denied, they can go to court.”
Shawn Graff, executive director of the Land Trust, said the issue is being handled by the Land Trust’s attorneys.
“We basically disagree with your assessor and are having friendly discussions,” Graff told the Town Board last week.
“We use the building strictly for education and research purposes. We started restoration activities almost immediately. We own buildings in other communities that are tax exempt. There are thousands of nature centers in the state that are tax exempt.”
The 116-acre property, now called the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, is being returned to its native state to provide a habitat that includes resting, feeding and nestings areas for native and migratory birds.
What was expected to take 10 years will be completed in 18 to 24 months thanks to $454,000 in federal stimulus funds allocated through the Fish and Wildlife Service, Graff said.
More than 20 ponds have been constructed and existing ponds modified to increase their capacity, he said.
Native trees and shrubs will be planted and the golf course turf will be replaced with native grasses, Graff said.
The Land Trust is planning to hold its annual fund-raising dinner at the nature preserve in August.
THE FORMER SQUIRES Country Club clubhouse and five acres of land in the Town of Belgium are being taxed by town officials, but the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust claims it should be tax exempt. The 116-acre former golf course was purchased by the Land Trust in November 2008 and is now the Forest Beach Migratory Nature Preserve. Photo by Sam Arendt